At School No.14: Disease and Cleanliness

One former teacher reminisced on the state of the children at Floodgate Street in the 1920s:

“It was a very nice school but the children were very dirty. I remember they all had to have a bath unless they passed the cleanliness standard.” [MS1497/3/1 Miss Barton]

The first use of the new bathing facilities at Floodgate Street in 1905 gained a similar reaction:

“Commenced to use new bath yesterday… Some of the boys were so dirty that it took a half hour + in one or two cases 40mins to get them clean, the date of the last bath being so remote that the boys had forgotten it” [S68/2/1 29.6.1905]

This is not particularly a surprise considering the Birmingham School Board had to authorise extra cleaning in 1897 for Floodgate Street  School as the surrounding area was so dirty. [SB/1/1/1/13 27.2.1897] Sometimes the children used to be sewn into their winter clothes by their parents, and those supervising the baths would have to cut them out. [MS 1497/3/1 Miss Barton Oral History]

This general lack of hygiene for many of the children meant that illness and vermin were rife.

“Floodgate Street School had a building erected in the playground. Kids who’d got scabies used to go twice a week for sulphur baths. There used to be a nurse there and when it came to your head, she’d pick them up with big tweezers to get rid of the scabies…”

[Arthur Evans Oral History MS 1497/3/1]

 The bathing centre at Floodgate Street School was used by the surrounding schools too, and the Hygiene sub-committee of the School Board often had to deal with issues surrounding it.

THe Hygiene Sub-committee discussed ringworm at Floodgate Street School. BAH: BCC 1/BH/10/1/1/2 record 561

On several occasions Floodgate Street was closed in order to stop the spread of Measles, Chicken Pox and Influenza. Sometimes an illness could catch the teachers off guard:

“Today at 4 o’clock, just as children were being dismissed, a little girl was suddenly taken ill. She made strange gurgling noises in the throat, said she was sleepy and then became quite unconscious.”

[S68/1/1 6.9.1926]

It was discovered a few days later that the child had Diphtheria, a disease which Tinkers Farm School, at least, recorded inoculating for in 1938.

Small Pox vaccination attempts caused some controversy in 1874. GP B/29/1/1.

Yet vaccination for Small Pox originally met with opposition, as recorded by the Birmingham Poor Law Union Vaccination Committee minutes of 1874-5. This sentiment had evidently changed enough by 1938 for the Birmingham School Board to inoculate for Diphtheria.

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